In 1999, Girth McDürchstein found himself jailed for crimes he didn't commit: convicted on two counts of first-degree murders and one count of rape, he spent nearly three years in a Montana state correctional facility. During that time, Girth was an exemplary convict. He organized a volleyball league, single-handedly eliminated gang and corruption problems within prison walls, and established a book club for the few inmates who could read.
The book club gave Girth his original inspiration for The Hedge. After assigning a nonfiction junior-reader diary entitled El Labertino de los Diablos, Girth was struck by how similar Chilean teen José Barrenechea's life was to his own. Even the harrowing last three entries in the book, which chronicle Barrenechea's descent into madness and slaying of two innocents in a motel, reminded Girth of the experience that led him to his incarceration. It made him wonder about the man who really had committed those crimes — was it really possible that only a few burst synapses separated Girth McDürchstein the heavy-metal star from Girth McDürchstein, insane murderer?
The Hedge was born. In what Girth describes as a "fever-dream," songs rushed into his soul and he tried his damndest to catch them on paper. Within months, an early version of The Hedge — totaling more than three hours — was performed by a prison drama and music club formed by Girth. It received a tepid response from guards and inmates; Girth knew he had work to do, had to pare down the story to a digestible and coherent form — Girth knew that this his entire life had led him to this story, and if he didn't tell it, nobody would.
By the time his conviction was overturned in 2001, Girth had finalized a version of The Hedge that he deemed ready to record and perform live. Although he would cut some of these songs from The Hedge's final incarnation (especially the "Skullfucking Infants Estampie," a 23-minute "dream ballet" that couldn't fit on the album and truly baffled live audiences in early performances), Girth knew how to tell his story as nobody — not José Barrenechea, not ghostwriter Beatrice Sparks — could.
To record the album, Girth used a surprising influx of cash into Kelleystein Records to purchase a $3.5 million castle in Cornwall, which he converted into a recording studio and English base of operations for Kelleystein Recordings. Nearly a year later, Abysmal Crucifix released Girth McDürchstein's 'The Hedge' to eager audiences stateside. They also launched a national touring company performance of the show, featuring Girth McDürchstein in the lead role and his fiancée Margo Atwater as The One.
The double-album had poor sales worldwide, which many experts attribute to the length of time Abysmal Crucifix spent outside the limelight between 1999 and their resurgence in 2002. Without Girth to lead them, the rest of the band floundered, simply waiting for Girth to get out of prison. Despite the critical and commercial success of Backseat Delightlah!, the controversy surrounding Girth's conviction, and the early buzz about the never-released You Can Touch It for a Quarter, the world had moved on and forgotten about Abysmal.
Despite the commercial and critical failure of The Hedge, Girth continued to spend Kelleystein promotional dollars to ensure its eventual success. Although he signed a lucrative deal to have the stageplay script printed by Dramatists Play Service, few independent performances of the rock opera were produced.
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